Six Coinage Portraits of Queen Victoria

Coinage portraits of Queen Victoria

One of Britain’s greatest monarchs, Queen Victoria, commanded the greatest empire the world has ever seen for over 63 years. The gold sovereign has a prestigious reputation around the globe, which was established in the reign of Queen Victoria, and over 25% of the population used coins with Queen Victoria’s portrait. However, despite this, there were minimal coinage portraits of Queen Victoria produced.

In our latest blog, we will be exploring six effigies that appeared on coinage during Queen Victoria’s reign…


The Young Head

In 1838, the first portrait of Victoria for coinage purposes was approved. This portrait was designed by William Wyon, the Chief Engraver at the Royal Mint. Depicted in neo-classical style, it shows the Queen facing left, her hair tied loosely back with a double ribbon or ‘fillet’. It is undoubtedly a numismatic and artistic masterpiece, known as the ‘Young Head’, and was modified several times over fifty years.

The second ‘Young Head’ portrait was introduced in 1848 and was engraved much larger and covered more of the coin surface. In 1867 a third portrait was created, similar to the previous two designs, although this aged some of her features to represent Queen Victoria’s age. The fourth and fifth portraits were introduced in 1876 and 1880 and were both also slightly adjusted to reflect the monarch’s age.

Una and the Lion

Issued in 1839 and regarded as one of the most beautiful designs ever to appear on British coinage, William Wyon created the Una and the Lion portrait. Queen Victoria is depicted as the fictional character Lady Una from the Edmund Spenser poem ‘The Faerie Queene’. Alongside Una is her guardian and symbol of England, the lion.

This design is symbolic of a young monarch leading one of the greatest empires ever. It was incredibly controversial to begin with, as never before had a person or monarch been featured on a coin as a fictional character. However, it was an immediate success and became incredibly sought-after. This design was only ever struck for one year and only around 400 coins were produced.

The Gothic/Godless Portrait

William Wyon was responsible for yet another Queen Victoria coinage portrait; the gothic crown portrait. During the mid 19th century, there was a revival of Gothic style that reminisced chivalry and romance of the medieval age. Introduced in 1847, Queen Victoria is depicted wearing an ornate crown, her hair braided, wearing an embroidered dress that has roses, thistles and shamrocks symbolising England, Scotland and Ireland.

In 1848, the silver florin was introduced. The same Gothic portrait was used, however, the bust was proportionally larger and covered more of the coin surface. This Victorian silver florin was the first step towards decimalisation. However, the British public were outraged as DEI GRATIA (‘by the grace of God’) had been dropped from the coin, thus the coin was renamed the Godless Florin.

The Bun Head

To grace new bronze pennies, halfpennies and farthings, a new long-lived portrait was introduced in 1860 by engraver Leonard Charles Wyon. This design replaced the heavier and less durable copper coins. Wyon conducted many sittings with Queen Victoria who had a personal interest in the project before the design was finally approved. This version was known as the ‘Early Bun Head’ as it had a more youthful appearance. However, in 1889 a new portrait was released, known as the ‘Late Bun Head’ to reflect the Queen’s age.

The design was influenced from a model by William Theed, and features a left-facing bust of Queen Victoria wearing a bodice and a mantle decorated with rose, thistle and shamrock. Her hair is tied back in a plaited bun and there is a wreath of leaves and berries tied with ribbon present on her head. This portrait remained in circulation for over 100 years and was only fully withdrawn with decimalisation.

The Jubilee Head

In 1887, the year that marked Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a new portrait appeared on gold and silver denominations. Designed by Joseph Edgar Boehm, the portrait depicts Queen Victoria as a much more mature monarch. Her face is fuller, her nose is sharper, and her eye area is sunken. She is also depicted wearing a small crown and a long veil, which represents the state of deep mourning that she adopted after the death of Prince Albert.

The ‘Jubilee Head’ although realistic, was certainly not well-received. A lot of the complaints were centred around the crown, which people believed was unbalanced on the Queen’s head and peculiarly small. There were also complaints that the Queen had a ‘sour’ look, which did not coincide with the gracefulness that was expected of a monarch. Queen Victoria herself did not like this portrait and it was replaced as quickly as it could be.

The Old Head

The final portrait of Queen Victoria to appear on British currency was introduced in 1893 by Sir Thomas Brock. Known as the Old Head, Veiled Head or Widowed Head, this portrait flatteringly and accurately depicts the 74-year-old Queen. There are features which show her age, such as wrinkles around her eyes. However, there is also an elegant style similar to Wyon’s ‘Young Head’ Design.

Queen Victoria is shown wearing the typical Royal items, such as a tiara, heavy necklace, earrings and Garter Star. She is also wearing her mourning veil, which drapes gracefully over her shoulders. Queen Victoria continued wearing widow’s clothing until her death and so this was a tribute to her public image. The ‘Old Head’ portrait appeared on gold and silver coinage and then on bronze coinage from 1895 until her death in 1901, and Brock went on to design the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace.


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